Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, or rather Geronimo Ji Jaga, passed away in his adopted home in Tanzania yesterday. His death should give us pause to reflect upon a largely forgotten, but no less disgraceful passage in American history. A Vietnam vet and Black Panther, he was convicted of a murder he didn’t commit and imprisoned for 27 years on charges fabricated by the FBI. He is one of a large number of black, Latino, and American Indian activists and revolutionaries — some of the most visible “terrorists” of the day — subjected to gross miscarriage of justice at the hands of the government, its COINTELPRO, and other institutions, from the 1960s onward.
Here’s a short primer, from a 1984 episode of 60 Minutes:
His life was both an object lesson in the history of American institutional racism and suppression of dissent, and a rare example of transcending suffering. He never gave up, and when the conviction was finally reversed in 1999, he was unwavering in commitment to his cause without showing any despondency, bitterness, or resentment. This man’s story should be taught in schools.
And let us not forget that there’s still a large number of people in America serving long prison terms on dubious convictions. Mumia Abu-Jamal, on death row for almost 30 years, is but the most famous and visible of them. Whether guilty or not, many of them have not been given the fair trials promised in the Constitution. Why does it seem the book has been closed on them?